March 06. 2016 2:01AM
The likelihood of offshore wind becoming a significant contributor to our electricity supply has been through its ups and downs.
From early enthusiasm and optimism around the Cape Wind project, through the long battles over siting that eroded that enthusiasm, then the purchase agreements that would have provided financial stability, and finally to the withdrawal of the agreements that leaves the hopes for the first proposed offshore wind project for Massachusetts watching the game from the sidelines.
Despite that project stalling, the natural supply of offshore wind off our coast has attracted players with more clout and more experience. Leaseholders are spending more time in Massachusetts, and thanks to the state’s investment in a heavy lift port and blade testing facilities, they’re spending more time in New Bedford and Quincy, too.
Last week’s expression of support for Massachusetts offshore wind by House Speaker Robert DeLeo shows the industry’s promise is alive and well.
The House speaker told the Boston Chamber of Commerce he would ensure the House version of the energy bill coming into shape in the capital will include language supporting a path to a full-fledged offshore wind industry.
The growing support of the industry among Massachusetts politicians strengthens the overall push for renewable energy sources and attainment of goals regarding the reduction of carbon-based fuel emissions.
Obstacles remain, and one of the most salient is the eventual mix of energy sources settled upon in the final bill, which could be an amalgam of multiple versions in the Legislature and one filed by the governor.
Notwithstanding the growing awareness of offshore wind’s potential as a local economic engine as well as being a renewable energy source, the final bill’s expression of priorities will have a large impact on how quickly and to what degree wind can emerge here.
Since the previous administration, the import of hydroelectric power from Quebec has been identified as a priority.
Solar generation has skyrocketed, beyond what was predicted, but regulatory barriers have raised questions and suggested a remedy might be needed to expand solar and bring more jobs.
Likewise, efforts to get more natural gas supply in the Northeast to address winter electricity spikes have complicated the process. Gas already accounts for the biggest part of the electricity we use, and there are environmental, legal and financial reasons to reduce that reliance.
We know that Massachusetts has some of the highest electricity rates in the country, but we also know that residential bills are among the lowest in the country, thanks to innovations and efficiencies borne out of necessity.
There are electricity-intensive businesses for whom electricity rates are critical to their decision-making and profitability, and lawmakers are constrained in how much weight to give present rates over future benefits.
Electricity prices are a blend of costs from each of the energy sources that go into the delivered product. Increasing gas supply and importing foreign hydro power will have downward pressure on electricity prices in the short term. If it limits the scope of a whole new domestic industry, however, we would urge lawmakers to make a full accounting of the future benefits.